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Thursday, March 1, 2012

No Lipstick on This Pig!


The restaurant where I'm doing my externship

No lipstick on this pig

There comes a time in every intern’s sojourn where there is a defining moment.  Accounting majors may learn a new tax loophole or a med. student will discover a calling to surgery instead of being a general practitioner, perhaps a law intern finds a desire to fight for mother earth instead of chasing ambulances.  My epiphany was revealed to me when chef’s Craig Deihl and Bob Cook summoned me to the upstairs kitchen.  Upon arriving I saw a most beautiful sight; right in front of me was an entire pig carcass.  

Asheville, North Carolina (a bit of foreshadowing?)
To become headcheese!

One Little Piggy....
...Two Little Piggy

The offal (internal organs) had already been removed and placed upon a sheet pan.  Now most folks would look at pig heart, liver, kidneys and such with disdain and a yearning to flee as far away as possible but to the learned chef and/or culinary student such as me….offal is but a start to some wonderful dishes such as scrapple and haggis being some of the more well known. 

Actually, you can braise a heart and stuff it with root vegetables and herbs for a very delicious meal.  How about Normandy-Style kidneys with apples, onions, Calvados, cream and sugar sautéed to perfection.  Just because the protein is an organ doesn’t mean that it will taste bad, in fact organ meat is very high in lean protein and low in fat and when cooked properly will be a wonderful and delicious meal.

The Fabrication Begins!
The Top Middle (Loin)

Chef Bob Cook was motioning for me to come closer as Craig and he started to saw the blessed animal in half.  I sorta got a little excited and I harkened back to my “Meat Fabrication” class at Ivy Tech.  I remember it being one of – if not my favorite class.  There’s just something about cutting up an animal properly for human consumption.  Maybe it’s the survivor instinct that resides in all of us that got my motor running, regardless; I’m about to witness two masters at their craft.  

Fresh Leg or Ham
A Hacksaw is standard equipment

The two chefs first made the necessary separations of parts of the pig into primals.  The head was removed separately and will be made into head cheese.  This is something that my grandfather Okolovitch was fond of and introduced me to at a very young age when I was around 8 or 9 years old.  Head cheese (also known as brawn) is a cold cut usually reserved for sandwiches.  It is comprised of snout, ears, jowls (cheek) and such and put into a terrine after cooking.  It becomes set aspic (gelled from collagen) that can be sliced and when done properly with just the right seasonings can be a revelation to your taste buds.

The "Offal" - Internal Organs
Tools of the Trade

The next separation will be to get the shoulder (two parts) cut away from the loin (middle back) and the spare ribs & side pork (middle bottom).  The shoulder will then be cut into two parts which is the shoulder or “Boston Butt” (top half) which you can use for roasts, lower end steaks, cubes or grind for sausage.  The “Picnic ham or Shoulder” (bottom half) is usually reserved for a picnic ham (smaller) and the hock (just above the hoof/foot) usually reserved for soups or slow cooking with hearty greens.  My grandfather Okolovitch pickles the hocks and feet and sets it in aspic for a bright and acidic flavor accompanied with garlic and salt and pepper.  I love this stuff!!

Bob Cook Butchering the "Top-Middle" Primal
Separating the Ribs

The next part or “middle” part is where the money is made as the loin (upper back) has the tender meats that can be fabricated into chops, loin steaks, country-style ribs and of course the tenderloin itself.  The “bottom” part is where my favorite part of the animal is and at one point was so valuable that it was traded on the stock market as “pork-bellies”.  Yes, this is where the fantastic bacon is located as well as spare ribs.

Bacon Anyone?
Yes a Band-saw is also Standard Equipment

The hind quarters will be separated to make hams or ham roasts.  This meat can also be fabricated into scallops, strips, cubes or cutlets.  The pig is a very versatile animal with it being completely usable.  Bones can be roasted and used in stocks and the fat can be rendered and mixed with butter and herbs for a different type of delectable spread atop a hamburger bun or another application altogether.
.....Takes Years of Practice

Knowing Exactly What to do......

As these consummate chefs work their way through the animal; I notice that the time is flying by as this practice has been done time and time-again so their proficiency is undoubtedly intact as the piles of meat begin to pile up in an orderly fashion.  The primals are cut into sub-primals and steaks, hams, loins, fillets and such are becoming evident as the cutting and fabrication continues.

Each day I walk into the upstairs cooler; I’m awestruck first by the smell then by the sight of the variety of different preparations of charcuterie that lie in wait for a customer’s approving chomp.  Each patron’s experience of the protein-laden offerings attributed to these days of fabrication will be different as they taste the blood, sweat and more sweat of the effort by these butchering warriors.  No matter what memories are conjured up in one’s mind with each bite; Craig and Bob and John can rest assured that their efforts aren’t in vain as the Cypress clientele is steadfast and true. 

The Prize for Knowing How to Butcher a Pig

If and when - I ever own and am able to run a restaurant (my goal is to have 3); you can be assured that multiple offerings of exotic proteins will be available as well as avant garde  cooking and preparation methods being utilized like charcuterie, tagine's, terrines, etc  to enhance the diners experience.  Cooking can be an exhilarating profession with a vast array of possibilities standing before an experienced chef.  Now all I have to do is become an experienced chef.  This will take some time (a LOT of time).  I'll get there and at my current age of 50; I'll do everything in my power to get there as fast as possible.

Evidence of Chef Craig Deihl's  Hard Work and Research

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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